Canadiens playoff race comes just in time for Montreal restaurants and bars to step out of pandemic restrictions

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Seasalt, an upscale seafood bistro in downtown Montreal, is an odd place to watch a hockey game.

The beach-themed restaurant’s main indoor TV is juxtaposed with a pink neon ‘C’est La Vie’ sign perched high on the wall, and the heavy marimba club music muffles the sound of play-by-analysts. play. There are no hockey memories in sight; the restaurant’s only point in common with a real sports pub is the range of rum bottles displayed around its island bar.

However, the closer the Montreal Canadiens get to the Stanley Cup, the more the restaurant runs out of seats on its huge terrace on rue de la Commune, as hockey fans gather to watch the game, drink cocktails and eat oyster platters.

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“We are not a sports bar,” said manager Mike Zaki, “we are a relaxing bar where business people come for lunch and where friends come for a relaxing evening. But we have adapted to what people want.

Shortly after the Stanley Cup Playoffs began on May 15, Zaki noticed that the Habs’ game broadcasts were attracting a new clientele to his restaurant – a clientele likely to spend more and occasionally purchase shooting streaks. when the Habs score a goal. While dedicating all Beach Bar TVs to hockey might be slightly off-brand, it’s great for business.

Seasalt is one of the many restaurants in Montreal that is seeing an increase in sales brought on by the Habs’ longer-than-expected playoff length, which coincides with Quebec’s gradual lifting of restrictions linked to the pandemic. Patios are now allowed, as are limited-capacity meals on site.

In mid-June, as the Canadiens prepared for Game 1 of the Stanley Cup Semi-Final Series against the Vegas Golden Knights, the province allowed bars to serve alcohol until midnight and to stay open until 2 a.m. to welcome hockey fans. Since then, Montreal restaurants of all kinds have tapped into Quebecers’ love of hockey to increase their sales and make up for business they lost during the pandemic year.

Business is expected to be buoyant again for Game 3 in Montreal on Friday as the Habs try to return to the series against the Tampa Bay Lightning.

La Grocerie, a neighborhood café known for its brunch and pastries, installed three giant-screen TVs on its patio and added more user-friendly finger foods to its menu last week. The cafe got a new look hours before the Canadiens knocked out the Golden Knights to advance to the Stanley Cup Final. The establishment set a one-day sales record that day, said Senior Chef Maxime Descôteaux, and has since maximized its capacity of 60 people each game night.

“Cross your fingers and touch wood to make this streak last as long as possible,” Descôteaux said. “[The playoffs] have been so beneficial to us – it ends too soon.

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The Canadians, making their first appearance in the Stanley Cup Final since winning the trophy in 1993, lag the defending champions Lightning 2-0 in the top seven series.

The playoffs could end as quickly as Monday if the Habs lose both games at home, or end as late as July 11 if the series goes to seven games.

For established sports bars, the Canadiens’ Cinderella season is also an opportunity to speed up the return to normalcy. La Cage, a hockey-themed pub with 36 locations across Quebec, is etched in provincial tradition as the next best place to watch the Canadiens after the Bell Center. For more than a decade, they’ve given eight free wings to every table every night the Habs scored five or more goals.

During this Cup race, La Cage is selling more spirits than in the past, said Vice-President of Communications Marc Pelletier.

“People start their pre-game supper, and when the Canadiens score a goal, they order a round of shots or champagne,” said Pelletier. “We expected more spending due to pent-up demand due to the pandemic, but with the Canadians coming this far in the playoffs, it’s doubled.”

Pelletier said all of its locations sell out as soon as new playoff games are added to the Canadiens’ schedule, and their terrace reservations have become such a convenience that some customers are reselling them on Facebook Marketplace.

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La Cage pitches are still only open at 30% to 60% of their capacity and turn many people away on game night. Before the pandemic, it would have seemed like a missed business opportunity, but since the sports bar developed its own online take-out system to maintain sales through 2020, Pelletier has said it was missing fewer sales. Currently, people are ordering takeout from La Cage at the same rate as during the pandemic.

Pelletier, a longtime Habs fan who remembers their Stanley Cup victory in 1993, said he expects the bar’s reservation lists to be impenetrable as the playoffs roll on.

“Obviously I wanted the Habs to win in four,” he said, “but putting on the business hat we’re hoping for seven games. “

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